Ant has given up sex completely, researchers say

Aug 26, 2009
Mycocepurus smithii ants tending their fungus garden. These are the only known completely asexual ants in the world. Credit: Copyright Alex Wild. Do not use without permission.

The complete asexuality of a widespread fungus-gardening ant, the only ant species in the world known to have dispensed with males entirely, has been confirmed by a team of Texas and Brazilian researchers.

Most social —the , and bees—are relatively used to daily life without males. Their colonies are well run by swarms of sterile sisters lorded over by an egg-laying queen. But, eventually, all social insect species have the ability to produce a crop of males who go forth in the world to fertilize new queens and propagate.

Queens of the ant Mycocepurus smithii reproduce without fertilization and males appear to be completely absent, report Christian Rabeling, Ulrich Mueller and their Brazilian colleagues in this week.

"Animals that are completely asexual are relatively rare, which makes this is a very interesting ant," says Rabeling, an ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin. "Asexual species don't mix their genes through recombination, so you expect harmful mutations to accumulate over time and for the species to go extinct more quickly than others. They don't generally persist for very long over evolutionary time."

Previous studies of the ants from Puerto Rico and Panama have pointed toward the ants being completely asexual. One study in particular, by Mueller and former graduate student Anna Himler (now at Arizona State University), showed that the ants reproduced in the lab without males, and that no amount of stress induced the production of males.

Scientists believed that specimens of male ants previously collected in Brazil in the 1960s could be males of M. smithii. If males of the species existed, it would suggest that—at least from time to time—the ants reproduce sexually.

Rabeling analyzed the males in question and discovered that they belonged to another closely related (sexually reproducing) species of fungus-farmer, Mycocepurus obsoletus, thus establishing that no males are known to exist for M. smithii.

He also dissected reproducing M. smithii queens from Brazil and found that their sperm storage organs were empty.

Taken together with the previous studies of the ants, Rabeling and his colleagues have concluded that the species is very likely to be totally asexual across its entire range, from Northern Mexico through Central America to Brazil, including some Caribbean islands.

As for the age of the species, the scientists estimate the ants could have first evolved within the last one to two million years, a very young species given that the fungus-farming ants evolved 50 million years ago.

Rabeling says he is using genetic markers to study the evolution and systematics of the fungus-gardening ants and this will help determine the date of the appearance and genetic mechanism of asexual reproduction more precisely in the near future.

Source: University of Texas at Austin (news : web)

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User comments : 6

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Alizee
Aug 26, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Caliban
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 26, 2009
...why is me so down on me? Always telling me: "me, go rake the leaf litter", "me, go comb the fungus", "me, unblock my oviduct". Me, me, me, me!
Velanarris
5 / 5 (2) Aug 26, 2009
This example just demonstrates, virginity and chaste life without dirty libertinage IS INDEED possible! Young people in particular should take example from these diligent ants. Hallelujah!

You're out of your mind.
fhtmguy
5 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2009
Alizee, you must be crazy! Did you actually read what you wrote?
acarrilho
5 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2009
Lighten up, it was just a joke...
MongHTanPhD
1 / 5 (3) Aug 26, 2009
RE: Myrmecology as Anthropology!?

This example just demonstrates, virginity and chaste life without dirty libertinage IS INDEED possible! Young people in particular should take example from these diligent ants. Hallelujah!


You're out of your mind.
and
Alizee, you must be crazy! Did you actually read what you wrote?


Precisely the points: I think Alizee is committing a fallacy of the neo-Darwinist reductionism of "sociobiology" that I recently commented here: http://www.nature...-comment "The nail in the coffin for group selection? -- RE: Not yet!" (NatureUK; May 29); and here: http://www.philos...k/?p=485&cpage=1#comment-1006 "The unnatural selection of consciousness -- RE: Commentary on Tallis' understanding of consciousness!?" (PhilosophyPressUK; August 14).

Hints: Human sexuality is regulated and controlled by our sex hormones -- worker ants do not produce sex pheromones; only queen ants do!? Are you suggesting that young (autonomous, sexually active) people should behave like diligent ants who are devoid of sexuality!?

Best wishes, Mong 8/26/9usct6:14p; practical science-philosophy critic; author "Decoding Scientism" and "Consciousness & the Subconscious" (works in progress since July 2007), "Gods, Genes, Conscience" (2006: http://www.iunive...95379907 ) and "Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now" (blogging avidly since 2006: http://www2.blogg...50569778 ).
MongHTanPhD
1 / 5 (3) Aug 26, 2009
RE: Myr'me'cology!?

...why is me so down on me? Always telling me: "me, go rake the leaf litter", "me, go comb the fungus", "me, unblock my oviduct". Me, me, me, me!


Now that's the 'sociobiology' of myr'me'cology! Please note the word 'me' in myrmecology, the study of ant colonies!?

As a colony, the worker ants always respond to the survival needs of the colony which is regulated and controlled by the queen ant, for survival!?

Best wishes, Mong 8/26/9usct6:44p; practical science-philosophy critic; author "Decoding Scientism" and "Consciousness & the Subconscious" (works in progress since July 2007), "Gods, Genes, Conscience" (2006: http://www.iunive...95379907 ) and "Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now" (blogging avidly since 2006: http://www2.blogg...50569778 ).

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